We are still waiting for the first lights to flag victory in Formula E this season. In fact, even last season it only happened four times, so in the last 22 races the top step of the podium has only been filled by the polesitter on four occasions. To be clear, I’m not complaining, it’s a fantastic indication of Formula E’s competitiveness!
I’ve written enough on how competitive this series is over the last eight and a half years, but it’s fair to say we have never seen quite the level of overtaking that we witnessed in Berlin last weekend. 362 overtakes over the two races is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before (well, except for Sao Paulo the race before), but in Berlin it was even more wild.
A record amount of lead changes and leaders meant that Berlin was more unpredictable than ever, but I have to admit to enjoying how these races are unfolding. It reminds me of the first time I commentated on Caterham racing in the UK. Caterhams are tiny, lightweight sports cars, that race in close packs and rely on slipstreaming. I had never seen a Caterham race before, I grew up watching Formula 1 and other traditional motorsports where an overtake for the lead was something to be celebrated. It’s lap one at Silverstone, and the lead changes, so I get suitably excited, then on lap two there are two more lead changes, and by this point my screaming is off the charts! Three lead changes in two laps? Unheard of!
It was a terrible commentary, because I simply wasn’t used to this kind of racing. By the time the tenth overtake for the lead happened, I was on the commentary rev limiter and had nowhere to go. My point is, the next time I commentated on a Caterham race, I knew to pace myself a little bit more.
And that’s the point that we are at now with Formula E. The racing always built gradually, with drivers conserving in the first half of the race, before attacking in the second half. But now, it’s all about getting in to the right position in those early stages. Ideally you want to be about fourth or fifth in the race, that’s where you will be able to get the most out of the slipstream effect, without being too far back in the pack. But there’s 22 drivers who all want to be fourth or fifth, so the jockeying commences!
What is becoming very interesting is when drivers decide to ‘go’. In Hyderabad, Nick Cassidy (Envision Racing) left it too late. Despite having much more energy than Jean-Eric Vergne (DS PENSKE) in the lead, by the time Cassidy had caught him, Vergne had enough energy to be able to race flat out in the final few laps, essentially nullifying Cassidy’s hard work in building up his energy advantage.
It was similar in Sao Paulo, Sam Bird (Jaguar TCS Racing) arguably waited one or two laps too long before starting his big push towards the end of the race, meaning that although he caught the two leaders and had more energy, there wasn’t enough time left to utilise it.
The ironic thing is, just as we are getting our heads around this new style of Formula E racing in Sao Paulo and Berlin, it will most like revert to something a little more usual in Monaco next weekend - Something tells me we won’t be going four wide into Tabac – but having said that the energy fight will be crucial as ever.
Maybe the best Formula E race of all time, Monaco in Season 7, all came down to a final lap energy scrap, and I think we are in for another superb spectacle around the principality. But, just like those Caterham races, I’ve learnt to not get completely overexcited at the first sign of action, as there’s probably another 189 overtakes still to come.